The Air Force announced Thursday it is sending its next F-35A training squadron to be based at Eglin Air Force Base outside of Fort Walton Beach, leading Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to declare victory.
The decision will bring 500 additional military personnel to the area, including pilots, flight instructors, and military contractors, Gaetz and Rubio said in a joint news release issued Thursday.
It’s a bit of a trade, however. The Air Force announced that Eglin will only receive the new unit if the F-22 Raptor formal training unit that was temporarily operating at Eglin is permanently moved to Joint Base Langly-Eustis in Virginia. In March, the Air Force acknowledged plans to move the F-22 training unit.
The new F-35A squadran also will take space at Eglin vacated earlier by the Navy and Marine Corps.
The F-35, built by Lockheed Martin, is the military’s newest light, stealth, fighter. It was first introduced in 2006, and deployed into service in 2015. The F-35A is a variation, the smallest and lightest version of the aircraft.
Starting in 2011, Eglin AFB was the location of the F-35 initial joint training site hosting Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps F-35s. The Marine Corps relocated its F-35Bs in 2014, and the Navy announced its plans to relocate F-35Cs earlier this year.
“By basing the next F-35A training squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, we are taking advantage of existing facilities and training air space,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said in a statement released by the Air Force.
Additional F-35As are expected to begin arriving in the fall of 2021. The new squadron is expected to reach full operational capability by spring 2023.
“The F-35 is a game-changer with its unprecedented combination of lethality, survivability and adaptability,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein stated in the Air Force release. “Bringing this new training squadron to Eglin allows us to expand Fifth Generation fighter training so we can dominate in any conflict.”
The Air Force’s initial F-35 squadron stayed at Eglin, while the Navy and Marines left. Gaetz was key part of the efforts, first as a private attorney, to bring the fighters to Eglin originally, and then as a member of Congress to keep the Air Force’s squadron there as the others left.
On Thursday Gaetz praised President Donald Trump for the new squadron.
“President Trump and Air Force Secretary Wilson have once again proven their deep and abiding commitment to the United States Armed Forces, especially in Northwest Florida,” Gaetz said in his office’s release.
“This is a tremendous victory for Florida’s 1st Congressional District, and we stand proud to have them flying through our skies in Northwest Florida,” Gaetz said.
Rubio brought up his concerns about Russia and China.
“I welcome the decision by the Air Force to make Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base home to two F-35A squadrons,” Rubio stated. “My highest priority is ensuring the men and women who proudly and bravely serve our country have the tools they need to succeed. As we continue to take steps to rebuild our armed forces, ensure readiness, and modernize our equipment, I remain committed to ensuring the Air Force has the aircraft inventory necessary to compete with a near-peer adversary such as Russia or China.”